John Tips His Hat
John Machado tips his hat whenever he meets someone new. This signature habit has certainly made him familiar to residents and staff alike at Grace Barker, the nursing center where he currently resides. His connections to the building, however, are deeper than most. As the handy husband of Linda Machado, Grace Barker’s first administrator, John was instrumental in the home’s construction. His stonemasonry and planting once graced the grounds, and John’s maintenance skills were integral to the home’s upkeep and operations until his eventual retirement.
Hailing from the lush Azorean island of São Miguel, John is one of seven children, three of whom are still living. By day, he worked as a stonemason, but at night he transformed into a musician: Machadinho, or ‘Little Machado’. He was known for a playful brand of folk singing where two competitors would add and respond to each other’s lines —essentially a more pastoral version of a rap battle. An accomplished singer, John even cut a professionally-produced record —complete with groovy cover art— with his band.
Limited opportunities in his homeland, however, drew John across the Atlantic in 1957. The 27 year-old landed in Canada, a nation then actively sponsoring the immigration of young Portuguese men. A former boss once described John as a man who “looks like he’s working…even when he’s not working.” That work ethic was certainly present in the young, freshly immigrated John, who took to the Heinz tomato fields. Other odd jobs followed, including a gig ferrying yacht owners to their ships. Within a few years, he arrived in Rhode Island.
John hadn’t relinquished his musicality on his transatlantic trip, and he sated the need for music with performances at Portuguese festas. It was at one fateful festa that John met Linda Moniz, then a student at Truesdale Hospital Nursing School. Quickly enamored, John and Linda were married in 1960. Once wedded, John became a naturalized citizen within three years.
In these early years of their marriage, John worked at Hasbro, carefully boxing classic toys like Mr. Potato Head, a task which demanded precision and concentration. Some of this money he sent his family in the Azores. After Hasbro, he began working at Grace Barker, where his unassuming demeanor made him an excellent gatherer of information. If something was wrong, or a rumor was flying around, John often knew the details.
John and Linda had a wanderlust that led them to places like Soviet Russia, Jerusalem and the Panama Canal. Once, while visiting John’s birthplace, the couple couldn’t find a night’s lodging. Linda was pleasantly surprised when a hotel clerk recognized John as an Azorean celebrity: Machadinho. His music was rather popular on the islands, and Linda was wowed by John’s status as what she called “Frank Sinatra of the Azores.” Suffice to say, the clerk was able to find a room for the famed Machadinho. After Linda died, John admitted to no regrets. They’d been “everywhere,” he said. They were together for 43 years, and John’s singing was likewise an enduring activity: he sang and participated in festas throughout most of his life.
Described by his daughter Mary Beth as “a generous, gentle, even-keeled man,” John maintains the quietness for which he’s long been known. This silence implies not inaction, but a steadiness, something that can weather challenge. “You don’t sharpen your sailing skills on calm seas,” he believes. As a young man traveling abroad for a new voyage in his life, John demonstrated the swift maneuvering needed to sail successfully.
His bed is flanked by photos that span his lifetime, from pictures of his much-adored grandkids Ethan and Ben to his late wife Linda. There’s also a framed record and a photo of his band, mementos of his youth in São Miguel, a time of sweet rhythm and bold song.